Tiziano Vecellio- Pieve di Cadore 1490 ca. – Venice 1576 – Transfiguration – 1560 ca., oil on canvas cm 245×295 – San Salvador Church , Venice
Paintings on canvas were already fairly widespread in the Fifteenth Century: while in Italy Cennino Cennini had already described the way to apply an adequate preparation to the canvas with a thin layer of gypsum and animal glue, in Flanders this new support was worked with very liquid tempera, obtaining effects similar to tapestry. Linen appears to be the most used fiber: woven in a tight, orderly and regular way, with light and thin yarn, it is ideal for a painting technique still characterized by a detailed spreading of color and a very thin pictorial layer. With the affirmation of the use of strong impasto colors, possible with the advent of oil painting, the diagonal and herringbone weaves, strong and elastic, began to spread in the Venetian environment at the end of the 15th century, guaranteed better adhesion of the color … or perhaps it was these new supports, born from the need for strength due to the exceptional dimensions of the paintings of the time, that inspired brushstrokes full with impasto.
Up to that moment the oil painting technique spread in Italy had notable affinities with Flemish procedures: artists like Raffaello or Giovanni Bellini used clear and smooth ground preparations on which, after tracing the design with precision, they began modeling with light impastos of regular and uniform thickness. The various tones were then fused with extreme care, avoiding to leave the slightest brush trace. In the Venetian environment of the early 1500s, however, painting acquires a consistency made up of rich mixtures, applied without drawing outlines, with nuanced and superimposed glazes (tonal painting). These premises (already present in Giorgione’s work) will be developed by Tiziano, who will master the so-called “impasto a corpo” (full-body impasto) (a technique that will become typically Italian), which implies no concern for lines or contours and therefore absolutely spontaneous and progressive overlapping of color.
More often than not Tiziano does not make a preparatory drawing, but builds the various elements overlapping them according to the laws of perspective or to his own chromatic taste. In many of his works, the lack of correspondence between the surface color and the underlying one suggests a way of proceeding by continuous adjustments. On other paintings, however, there are traces of carbon black drawing, justified, as in this case, by the need to limit the overlapping method (paintings of noticeable size) for economic reasons, or by the particularly complex conditions of the perspective. Abandoning the use of a clearly-outlined drawing on a smooth background, Tiziano’s drawing is characterized by luministic effects: it is a pictorial drawing carried out with soft writing means, where the line seems to dissolve. The ground preparation consists of the usual mixture of gypsum and animal glue but it is spread in extremely thin layers as to barely cover the texture of the fabric.
According to the testimony of Palma il Giovane, reported in 1668 by Boschini, Tiziano sets up his painting with “such an indistinct mass of colors, which served (as to say) to make the base, the draft of the expressions, which he then had to manufacture; and … in four brushstrokes he made the promise of a rare figure appear” then “he turned the paintings away facing the wall, and sometimes left them there for a few months … “.
In this way the pictorial surface is already organized in its spaces and in its chiaroscuro relationships: this is, in practice, the sketch technique in which the painting grows by overlapping and progressively perfects itself. In fact, Titian almost never paints “alla prima”. These first layers are characterized by a great impetus, without concern for the contours or the drawing: the impastos are loose and the brushstrokes are free and spontaneous.
After a few months the painter returned to examine and correct his paintings and “after bringing one to the most perfect symmetry he put his hands on something else, until it was dry, and on and off he painted the essence of living flesh, perfecting and distilling it with many adjustments that the only thing left missing in it was the breath of life itself ” .This ancient testimony is confirmed by scientific examinations which revealed the presence of multiple overlaps, often without an obvious logic but dictated by chromatic research experimented directly on the work. The “pentimentos” in the composition are very numerous and often it is not possible to determine any correspondence between the underlying layers of color and those on the surface. Tiziano therefore tends to create figures by continuous overlapping in search of the desired effect: transparent glazes and pigments are coupled with other opaque ones, light-colored layers receive transparent layers of intense color or numerous thin and covering layers.
Indicative of the elaborate and complex pictorial technique are the stratigraphies obtained from the micro-samples of the author’s works, which show the overlapping of even twelve successive drafts. Sometimes among these there are compositional overlaps, such as figures painted over completely finished backgrounds and architectures, double ground preparations both light and dark and also (very particular case) the presence of layers of pure oil whose function is to keep the color fresh during work interruptions.
Tiziano’s technique for painting complexions does not follow constant rules as far as the use of pigments, their succession or even the color base on which they are applied. The base being, most of the time, very dark or even black, therefore the painter achieves the color of the complexion by superimposing layers of gradually lighter color. Tiziano thus subverts the medieval coloristic standards which envisaged a succession of color from lights to shadows. “But the final seasoning of the painting was sometimes given by rubbing the color with the fingers, spreading the edges of the bright colors, approaching them to the half colors, and combining one color to the other … and thus he was perfecting his beloved figures “.
Manfredi Faldi – Claudio Paolini
Painting by Francesca Berni
Estratto da: Artis (Art and Restoration Techniques Interactive Studio), Direzione scientifica: Manfredi Faldi, Claudio Paolini. Cd Rom realizzato da un gruppo di istituti di restauro europei, con il determinante contributo della Commissione Europea nell’ambito del programma d’azione INFO2000.
Quest’opera è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Condividi allo stesso modo 4.0 Internazionale.
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